Early Book Structures

   Books have been in circulation for thousands of years. Cultures around the world and across time have used whatever materials they have had to hand to write on – bark, stone, leather, clay, wood, bone, papyrus and metal were all used.  The properties of the material they used determined to some extent the form of the book and the script.

Q: If you didn't have any paper what (analogue) surface could you find to write or draw on? How could you "bind" your material into a "book" with multiple pages?
Q: What materials is a modern tablet made of ?

   We can research historic book forms to get ideas for alternative structures which can then be modified and applied to contemporary projects.

Here are a few alternative structures to consider.

Clay tablet with lettering pressed into the wet clay. Sumeria, 2300-2100 BCE
Runic inscription on stone. Sweden
Bamboo slip book. 18th C.  Bound by twining threads at top and bottom edges – a bit like a modern bamboo blind or mat. Wooden slips were the main media for writing on in China before they invented paper about 2000 years ago.
Copy of a Roman wax tablet. Wooden boards were recessed and filled with wax. Bound with leather thong. This could be inscribed with the point of a metal stylus. The writing could be erased and the wax surface re-used.
Wax tablets could be double-sided and bound into multiple structures like this one.
Model of palm leaf book. Long, narrow pages of palm leaves were inscribed and bound, often with two holes. String or leather was threaded through the holes and two wooden boards, holding it all together. Common in SE Asia.
Contemporary scroll book from Korea. The papyrus or silk scroll was in use for thousands of years before the invention of parchment and paper.
Contemporary whirlwind binding which was used in the far east. A cousin of the scroll.

Dragon Scale Binding (China)  Links to an external website


Twisted paper was used in China to bind pages together – an early kind of stapling perhaps.
Copy of a Coptic codex, an early multi-section structure. Pages sewn together with a linking chain stitch which also attached the wooden cover boards. These early codices would have been covered with leather but contemporary Coptic-sewn bindings leave the sewing exposed so that the structure of the binding becomes an integral part of the design of the book.
Find contemporary examples of these historical book forms

The work of Islam Mahmoud Mohamed Aly

Take a tour of this bookbinding timeline from 3000 years BCE to present day. Timeline 


Print Friendly, PDF & Email